The UK government is poised to amend the regulations governing wireless spectrum -- a move that would legalise the rollout of faster Wi-Fi hot spots across Britain.
It is understood that legislation will be introduced in the House of Commons next week that will open up the 5GHz band of the radiocommunications spectrum to be used to operate wireless local area networks.
This move is part of the government's drive to make appropriate spectrum available to the telecoms industry, and follows a similar deregulation of 2.4GHz last year. This made it possible for operators to launch commercial WLANs based on 802.11b.
By deregulating 5GHz, the government will make it legal for operators to run hot spots based on 802.11a, which is much faster than 802.11b -- running at a theoretical maximum of 54Mbps compared to 11Mbps (although the actual bandwidth available is about half this maximum in each case).
The Radiocommunications Agency recently conducted a consultation into the regulation of certain spectrum bands, and concluded that the existing restrictions on 5GHz should be altered to "exempt low power WLANS for both public and private use."
This change will come into effect three weeks after the appropriate legislation is brought forward, which could happen next Tuesday.
It is unclear whether there will be the same level of interest in 802.11a hot spots as has already been seen with 802.11b.
Some experts have suggested that there isn't really a need for public WLANs running 802.11a, as the maximum surfing speeds available will be restricted by the speed of the connection from the hot spot to the Internet. If this is only a 4Mbps link, for example, there's little benefit in using 802.11a rather than 802.11b. However, the other advantages of 802.11a -- such as fewer other users of the band interfering, better cooperation with Bluetooth and higher peer to peer speeds -- still apply.
Currently, the RA offers temporary licences that allow the use of 5GHz for 802.11a, at a cost of £50 per month.